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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Courtesy, the Beltway and Common-freakin'-sense

Dear Reed's Visitors-

Please don't park like this.

Not saying it's stupid.... but then again, do I need to?

Here on our little country roads, this space is for the tractor-trailers that need to pass each other at the intersections... you know, the working vehicles owned by locals that use this road, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day?

Anyone who has spent more than a day at this crag (who had their brain with them) has heard and seen the cattle trailers, dump trucks, massive 4x4s and tractor-trailers that move up and down this road.

What makes this inexcusable is this open gravel lot, capable of holding a dozen cars, that was less than 50 feet away.

I know, that makes the approach BRUTAL, but think of it as training for your third try at your onsight... or the back country approach to the far side of Great Falls...

This sort of thing brought trouble with National Forest and Law Enforcement to the climbers of the New River Gorge.  It also pissed off locals who began to vandalize and break into cars that were parked with such disregard for local traffic or common sense.

Local tow operators loved it, though, as well as the impound yards where the cars wound up, most of them half an hour from where the vehicles were parked and open 9-5 weekdays only, cash only.

The nearest impound yard to Reed's is Moorefield, over 40 miles away.

Just sayin'.

This makes for a great excuse to bring National Forest Law Enforcement up the hill, and to encourage local law to cruise the parking area day and night.

Do we really need to re-invent the wheel?

Be smart, park courteous.... or cost the rest of us access and become incredibly popular at the crags.

Public and Private property on North Fork Mountain, in Germany Valley and in Smoke Hole Canyon

Courtesy of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy  and the hard-working researchers, trail builders and route setters here at the headquarters of PHAR/UP, the Potomac Highland Anchor Replacement/Upgrade Program:

North Fork/Smoke Hole/Germany Valley property boundary maps, absolutely free! Climb, hike, and camp like a responsible outdoor enthusiast, respect private property and always practice Leave No Trace; even if the latter is actually impossible here in the real world, the first two are fairly simple, even for rock climbers.

Thanks for helping us preserve access in the Highlands!

PHAR/UP is a not-for-profit idea, created out of 30+ years of experience at crags across America and a deep involvement with climbing development in the West Virginia Highlands region. No membership fees, no big corporate sponsors, just local climbers working hard every day to bring you better climbs, trails, and beta.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lies, scandals and rumors

In response to yesterday's blog, the Access Fund is now, once again, claiming that I have been the obstacle; not the Access Fund Regional Coordinator who shot down the idea of trail work, not the national level admin or local affiliate founder who agreed.

Not true, but I am tired of debating the lies and half-truths used to cover up and polish reputations in hindsight- whether I contest this point or not, after 20 years of  securing access, they still haven't figured out how to find a tax office, where phone numbers and addresses abide?

Apparently leaving Franklin completely alone since 2009 until several weeks ago, even going so far as moving away to Arizona for two years, was not enough room for this poor struggling organization to rally their forces and accomplish the first step of a conversation with the landowners.

The landowner who was quite cordial and open to trail work and even publication of the area in a guidebook is now characterized in emails as a hanging' judge with control over the properties of several families, who could bring down the hammer at any moment, a bit of a contradiction when we are told the families want to leave this area open for juvenile delinquents out of their deep sense of community and compassion, and when I know for a fact that the properties are owned by several different families, with no one person in control.

In the end, regardless of what is happening now, or what happens in the future, the situation here is pretty simple: private property with complex ownership was developed for climbing by folks who weren't too worried about whether or not it was public land.  People came, people climbed, the trails suffered and hardware wore out. The situation remained unchanged for a decade, until a non-member began to do trail work and replace anchors and made contact with the landowners, while AF members were happy to continue hiking under a No Trespassing sign with their dogs and AF affiliates used the area for membership drives.

The situation was allowed to coast along for years, with local, non-member climbers doing most of the heavy lifting as far as organization and maintenance and landowner communication, until we have another Meadow River situation, with increasingly fragmented ownership and a lot of clusterfoxtrot in the advocacy groups while access circles the drain.

I've lost the friendship of two local families over this, because I promised that the Mid-Atlantic Climbers and the Access Fund would take care of this crag, with one of the MACC founders standing right there, nodding his head and shaking the "hanging judge's" hand, and the folks I staked my reputation and friendship on have not followed through on their promises. Yet somehow the Access Fund is trying to play the victim, although as far as I know, no one there has lost anything but sleep over this situation.

Ask yourself where the problem lies: a single old climber who spent years replacing worn-out hardware and organizing trail work events out of his own pocket, a Regional Coordinator who, along with his employees, regularly trespassed and developed routes on private land, who has publicly stated that he doesn't have much use for volunteer trail work... or the parent organization that leaves him in that position while desperately trying to do spin-control on their increasing list of failures? 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gypsy Weekends

Trail work, emails, obstacles overcome, decisions arrive and discovery awaits.

The Regional Coordinator of the Access Fund (who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are TC) doesn't think this needs trail work.  TC sez "It's fine to keep climbing there, just don't do trail work."  Of course, it's important to remember that TC doesn't actually do any trail work himself, has never put up a route at Franklin, and has stated that he doesn't want volunteers messing with trails at Seneca Rocks, the crag where he earns his bread, as the owner of a guide service.

THAT is the face of the Access Fund in West Virginia.

More trail the Access Fund's Mid-Atlantic Climbers' Coalition agree is in fine shape.  The founders of that affiliate used me for an introduction to the landowners in 2008, got the information again in 2012, but have, so far, failed to do any trail work at Franklin, despite having a Jeep-hawking Access Fund Conservation Team at their disposal.


Because TC, Chris Irwin and Joe Sambataro made that decision, without asking the opinions of or sharing that news with the dues-paying members of the Access Fund and its affiliates who are constantly reminded of how important they are... except in really important decisions, of course..

In other words, if a non-member doesn't lead them, the Access Fund is useless to climbers outside of Cooper's, Seneca, and the New.

And judging by how access and private land has been handled in the area of the New River, the AF isn't leading by example there, either, now is it?

Three of the seven trail work volunteers we had, out of the hundreds of people, mostly Access Fund members, who come here to trespass and climb every year.

Climbers from Harrisonburg and Charlottesville have made a tremendous effort, but a handful cannot remedy the impact of a community that has been instructed not to help.

You did it once, MACC... think for yourselves, come back and fix the trails YOU helped to build... 

... while they can be fixed.  The landowners won't turn a blind eye forever; a new generation is on the rise, and they know who has done trail work, who's cleaned up the fire pit and trash... and who's organization is just coasting on the hard work of other people.

Far away from the madding crowd, on the trail of the Dragon's Tail, Cindy shines atop her new boulder problem, Miss Cindy Steps Up.

Stones in a row and a faint depression in the talus are all that remain of the old road.  We hiked here with permission; this incredible forest is private land, probably out of reach of climbers forever due to the trespasses of the few.   

The one that got away.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Just back from a Gypsy Trail Daze: two people doing a half-day of trail work at Reed's Creek in preparation for an incoming group of kids and moderate climbers, following a few weeks of folks who don't do trail work no matter how big their group or impact.

The funding from Kickstarter has finally emerged from the swirling depths of the Accounts department at Amazon.com... fourteen business days to the day, but actually over half a month after the end of the Kickstarter campaign.

This delay put us a bit behind the 8-ball on publishing dates but an answer has been found, or presented by the Universe, take your pick.

I've decided to go with another publisher, Next Ascent.  Upshot is a better product at the same price with a free smartphone app for all our Kickstarter supporters.  This app works whether there is phone service or not, without the technical problems that plague so many phone apps.  No subscriptions are required, and the app will supplement the guidebook by allowing us to instantly update the database with new routes and access information. 

As early as Labor Day, Kickstarter supporters could have the option to download this app for free. 

Downside of the delay is the time can't be made up.  We're looking at the end of December, New Years, in fact, as our new delivery target.

But be of good cheer- remember that some of the best walls are just coming into their own at that point: Reed's Creek and the Guide Wall bake all day long in summer, and Cave Mountain enjoys almost two more hours of daylight than either of them, all year long.  Even Long Branch and The Ninja Walls, bare of their summer canopy, get direct morning sun.

The print version of the guide will NOT be available in giant retail booksellers like Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, but in small local shops and gyms around the region, as well as online and from REI and EMS. Look for it at Downtown Books, next to the parking deck off Water Street in Harrisonburg, Virginia and at the Mountaineer Shack, just south of the 7-11 in Petersburg, West Virginia.

Next trail day: Halloween weekend: watch for an announcement concerning local access as well.

For more info or any questions, contact Mike Gray wvmgray@gmail.com  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Passing the Days

With the Kickstarter fundraiser now a successful thing of the past, time here in Basecamp Gypsy is spent reading surveys and designing T-shirts, waiting for Amazon and making plans for the next weekend of trail work and clean-up, somewhere between Labor Day and Hallowe'en.

Edits, emails, apps, interested parties who want to publish, resell, and otherwise "help" me with the guidebook.  Mis-routed hardware and indecipherable voice mails, gifts from old friends and new.

Settling into a new place, spending time with my wife, my grandchildren and beautiful stepdaughter, spending too much time behind the wheel, trying to judge the costs; the stress of driving a hundred miles and camping away from home for weeks to make a living balanced against my own quest for peace of mind and reason, paychecks weighed against the lost, irreplaceable hours with those I love and the wear and tear on a body that has been doing this for too many decades, too many thousands of miles, too many hotels and campgrounds, rental desks and three a.m. departures, all adding up to a toll that too often demands more than my best and exceeds my reserves.

Watching idiots in charge make bad calls, while the rest of us bear the cost and clean up the mess, from our local crags and forests to the global scene.

Pruning hedges and walking country roads,  mounting a new backyard target  for throwing knives out by the fire pit, cutting away deadwood and encouraging new growth, taking up old hobbies and new, polishing rusty skills and accepting new lessons.

Listening to bird song and frogs in the dusk, picking blackberries and living the life, passing the days here in West Virginia.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Down to the Wire

We still have 10 hours to go and the starving students/working class stiffs offer still stands... make a pledge of $10-20, show up for two days of trail work, end your day with some climbing, good grub and community, and we'll set you up in a campsite and send you a guidebook and T-shirt for the release date.
Due to limited space, campsites will be limited to trail work volunteers and Kickstarter supporters, but there are sites available at private Eagle Rock, which is only $10, and while a bit "rustic", has no quiet time or check out time. Cross the river and climb adventure trad all day long, swim, or check out the rest of this amazing canyon.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


This guidebook could never have been written without the incredible contributions of so many generations of climbers, dreamers and explorers, the support of the climbing and Kickstarter community or the encouragement of the incredible group that I call friends.  If you do not see a name, it is through no failure on the part of that person, but of my own memory.  For any such omissions I must deeply apologize in advance.

This has taken a lot of love and support behind the scenes, from the first routes in the canyon all those years ago, through years of ascents and bivvy sites, jugging and chasing tenuous hooks, rapping and cleaning and building trail when the weather turned, the inception of the guidebook and the gathering of old notes and photos, sorting data, chasing names and grades, accepting that no one can write the perfect guide and trying to write the best guide that I could.
It all began six years ago in the basement of an old church in the heart of Smoke Hole Canyon, and there are a number of folks I must thank for help and belief, input and criticism along the way.
Citation for Dedication Above and Beyond the Call of Duty goes to Michael Fisher, aka Doc Goodwack, single-handedly responsible for some of the finest hard technical and beautiful bold routes in this guidebook.  At Cave Mountain and The Fortress, he was the first in and up the walls with the only routes to date.  At The Darkside or Long Branch, Sunshine and Ninjas Walls, Reed’s Creek and Franklin, he created hard lines and instant classics.  

Anyone who climbs in and around Smoke Hole Canyon owes Mike a big vote of thanks for years of trail work, ground-up ascents, friendly, accurate beta and grueling hours of route-setting in full conditions; a man who stuck to his ethical guns, lives and climbs according to his own inner compass, and has pushed the envelope of traditional and aid ascents in the region since the earliest days of our acquaintance. 

He also happens to be one of the finest carpenters on the East Coast, a hardworking homebuilder who kick-started me when motivation was low, and graciously stepped aside when he could easily have red pointed any of the lines we have developed together.  Without Mike Fisher, I would not have learned half the things I know nor could I have achieved half of what I’ve done on the cliffs and trails… or had half as much fun doing them.

Brian Brydges came out of nowhere, literally, to dive right into the heart of realizing this guidebook. A former Franklin climber who had once or twice investigated Smoke Hole back in the 90s, Brian had gone on to a successful career, marriage and family.  Coming back to climbing two decades later, with an eye toward sharing his love of this activity with his wife and children, he found my name through the magic of the Internet and has been a source of support, inspiration, and infectious enthusiasm for the guide, trail work, and renovation of the aging anchors and bolts since our first conversation. What you hold in your hands is as much his work as mine.

Thanks, Brian.

For stepping up to the plate with hard work and money out of pocket on both trails and new lines, every climber who walks through Franklin and Reed’s Creek also owes a vote of thanks (and maybe a cold beer) to Ryan Eubank and the NoVA/MD Company.  This old climber thanks them each and every one from the bottom of his heart, most certainly The Renovator himself, for proving there are still climbers coming from this age of social gymnasts, and for once again setting a big cornerstone of the dream.

Eternal IOUs to Brian Dziekonski for jumping off when you didn’t have to, Franklin landscape engineering and trail work, perspective and support, proofreading, encouragement, a space to finish the bulk of this project, and an intro to central Colorado’s vast playground of rock, as well as an early and generous pledge to our Kickstarter project.

To John and Bernadette Burcham (and Dom and Beckett); thanks from a couple of rock gypsies.  Ed and Tracy Begoon, for showing me where it all was in the first place, guiding me to gear and routes that wouldn’t kill me; teaching me the art of running a chainsaw in a tree and giving me, from time to time, roof, meal, bed, and fresh coffee.  

For transforming the trails of Franklin and Reed’s Creek, my deepest thanks to Jamie Struck and all of the amazing Spring Break Trail Daze volunteers from Lyndon State College.

Thanks to “Pyro” Pat Frank for service to his country, gear and belays, in-country pick-ups and shuttles, Speyburn, winter treks and realized dreams.

There are not enough words to express my gratitude to the private landowners of Franklin Gorge, Eagle Rocks, and Smoke Hole.  Your continued willingness to allow the public access to your lands has given me years of delight, and continues to introduce new generations to a deeper appreciation of West Virginia’s land and her people.

Thanks to all the Trail Daze volunteers, as well as to the Access Fund’s Brady Robinson, the Reed‘s Creek Send-a-thon Crews, “Macdaddy” Mike and Deb Stewart, Randy LaForce and the PA Crue. 

Thank you to Matt Behrens and Mike Farnsworth for the accurate beta on the River’s Bend at Franklin, and for the incredible work you’ve both done toward the future of climbing in Smoke Hole and West Virginia.

Special thanks to Connie Magee, for great conversations, tireless fundraising and Tex-wrangling. Connie ran down funding for our Kickstarter project with the same grace, humor and determination she shows on rock.  We could not have done it without you, lass.

Thanks to the Daily Grind (check out their videos and music on YouTube), Maxim Ropes, Metolius, Fixe, for supporting the publication of this guide and thank-you to all those folks, as well as the New River Alliance of Climbers’ Gene Kistler and Jay Jung, for supporting the Potomac Highland Anchor Replacement/Upgrade Program.

Thanks to the Kickstarters:

Takuto Lehr
Matt Behrens
Chris OC
Dallas Branum
Dan Rodrigez
Classic Craig Spaulding
Tony Canike
Mitchell Babarovich
Ryan Nelling
Ted Fogarty
Allan Ange
James Garner
Brandon Dorman
Thomas Shifflett
Sofia Brycock
David A. Cohen
Johnathan Wachtel
Ex Pow-anpongkul
Jackson Crane
Aaron Ray
Greg Sudlow
David Lysy
Steve Jones
Kristan Markey
Stephanie Jesteadt
Michelle Bercovici
Sherry Erickson
Brooke Decker
Katie Hammer
Scott T Olson
Corey Shaw
Mary Lisa Sheperd
Donovan Sweet
Christopher Sweet
David Raines
Chuck Moses
Chazz Ott
Ronnie Stadtfeld
Johannes Reisert
Corey Vezina
Aaron Moses
Adam Byrd
Rick Dotson
Manny Rangel
Michael and Liz
Jeannette Helfrich
Robert Abramowitz
David Mitchell
Mark O’Neal
Mark Fletcher
Tommy Cockerell
Mike Mallow
John Gathright
Stephanie Huxter
Peter Jensen
Lorick Fox
Cedrick Capiaux
Brent Goddard
George Lewis
Samuel Taggart
Ryan Fishel
John Burkhart
Kristin Andersen
Big Wall Voltaire Valle
Sam Tradman Taylor
Good Man Jude Kalet
Stephen Haase
Cap’n Betty Welch
Jeff Koelmay
Pyro Pat Frank
Charles Green
Rachel Wills
Rocky Top
Jeremy Fox
Jon Alexander
Milas Robertson
Jackson Goss,
Eric Seme
Doug Smith
Jeff Baxter
Dennis Coyle
Jerry Stankunas
Josiah Weeks
Hung LY
Andrew Dotson
Ian Nathan
David Riggs
David Ciesla
Jennifer O’Brien
Frank Velez
Paul Sullivan
Eric Mayl
Jonnie Thompson
Henry Barkhausen
Garth Delinger
Joe Coover
The band The Daily Grind
Alexander T. Hypes
Michael Greene
Joe Thompson
Anliko Lowman
Jason Bethke
Adam Johnson
Keith Fegler
local climber Don Blume
Douglas D. Smith
Pat Light
John Harman
Dave and Liz Farnsworth
Sigmund Young
Scott Ransom
Tim C
Phil Lutz
Joshua McVeigh
Zachary Stone
Mark Veeman
Mark Folsom
Ted Plasse,
Morgan Falls
Danny Rowand
Amy Hazam
John Huber
Eduardo Ramirez
Ethan Atwood
Gabi Benel
Andrew Johnson
Todd Sleeman
Tom Georgevits
Kelly Shipp
Paul Meehan
Dr. Shulte-Ladbeck
David Turk
Matt Rockwell
Curtis Gale-Dryer

Thanks once again to my old friend Chris Riha, unsung hero of Smoke Hole climbing, to Mister Eric Horst for his kind support and to my Dad, Gilbert Gray for adding one last push to keep us rolling.

Of course, no list would be complete without my personal heroine, the gal who won my heart, Cindy Gray. Despite three back surgeries, a stroke, multiple sclerosis, and degenerative disc disease, she has been a mother, firefighter, bakery cook, EMT, nurse’s aide, and Habitat for Humanity volunteer center hostess, as well as my own confidante, partner in climb, explorer, photographer and videographer, handler, foil, and friend. 

Any woman who will follow you through heat and cold, over boulder fields and through green briars, spending hours on belay and building miles of trail, cooking a three course meal over a camp stove and proposing on Christmas Eve in front of a struggling campfire in a 17F wind chill snowstorm is a keeper, especially if she can also bake a pie.

Glad I was smart enough to realize that.

Good times and bad, fat times and thin, if you asked me today, I’d do it all over again.

Thank you, Miss Pink Pants.

Climb on.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Excitement is Building

So very grateful, and EXCITED!

For all our new backers, for the folks who have increased their pledges and brought others onboard, for the friends who have stepped up to truly support an idea they nurtured, to my incredible family; mother, father, and my amazing wife, who has done her best to keep me sane through the process (well, she did try...).

We stand at 93% of our $8,000 goal, $7475.... AWESOME!!!

Now I am offering the same challenge to all of our new pledges. You heard about the project from someone... now who do you know that would love to pre-order a new guidebook to over 250 lines, trad, sport, and mixed, from 5.5 to 5.13+, save $10 on the shipping and handling, and in the process help replace worn anchors and support future trail work and community events?

Right now I will up the ante as well- anyone who increases their pledge to $100 between now and the end of the project will be invited to join us for a catered weekend of climbing, camping, community and discovery this fall, again during the holidays when the guidebooks are delivered from the printer, and again next spring. You will receive an additional signed guidebook, a Smoke Hole Canyon T-shirt, and you will be listed on the Smoke Hole webpage and on my blog, Ronin's Road.

This reward is extended to all of you who have already pledged over $100, btw... just another way to say "Thanks".

Starving students offer: Anyone who can only afford $10-20 will be invited to one of three trail work weekends; July 26-27, the first weekend after we get the guides from the printer (sometime between Thanksgiving and early December), and the first weekend in April. Complete one day of our hands-on trail work seminar, join us for pizza and brews and get a Smoke Hole T-shirt, complete both days and get a copy of the guide with a T-shirt.

We are soooooooo close.... let's keep the momentum going!

Thanks and Happy Birthday to Connie Magee!

Happy Birthday and heartfelt thanks are due to Connie Magee this fine July day. Connie has been a vital part of this project and key to the recent surge of Smoke Hole development as well as being a joy to know as a new friend.  
She has worked tirelessly to spread the word about the project from day one, talking to individual climbers,, businesses, and groups, as well as spending a lot of days on belay on hard lines and of course doing a lot of Tex-wrangling. 
THANK YOU, CONNIE... we couldn't do it without you!
Now go eat some CAKE!